New Jersey’s Supreme Court granted parole on Tuesday to Sundiata Acoli, an 85-year-old former member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in the 1973 shooting death of a state trooper, Werner Foerster, in what has remained one of the state’s most infamous cases.
Supporters of Mr. Acoli, who was repeatedly denied parole during his 49 years in prison, had been pressing for his release for years.
In overturning a Parole Board ruling, the court concluded that the board had not proved that Mr. Acoli was likely to commit another crime if released. The Supreme Court noted that Mr. Acoli, who has dementia, planned to live with his daughter and grandchildren.
“We conclude that the Board’s finding that there is a substantial likelihood that Acoli will commit a crime if paroled is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record,” Justice Barry Albin wrote.
“No member of the Court disputes that Acoli committed a horrific crime,” he added. “However despised Acoli may be in the eyes of many because of the notoriety of his crime, he too is entitled to the protection of the law — and to the fair and impartial administration of justice.”
The governor, Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, immediately criticized the decision, as did the state’s acting attorney general, Matthew J. Platkin.
A law passed more than 20 years after Mr. Sundiata’s conviction requires a life sentence for anyone convicted of killing an on-duty law enforcement officer.
“I profoundly wish this law had been in place when Acoli was sentenced in 1974,” Governor Murphy said in a statement. “Our men and women in uniform are heroes, and anyone who would take the life of an officer on duty should remain behind bars until the end of their life.”
Soffiyah Elijah, a civil rights attorney who advocated for Mr. Acoli, praised the Supreme Court for “correcting the Parole Board’s improper application of the law.”
“It’s time now for Mr. Acoli to live the rest of his life in the loving care of his family and community,” Ms. Elijah added.